I would be nothing but a liar if I did not admit that at the end of the half, I was ready to declare the SC offense a complete disaster in all aspects. The execution was awful, but perhaps nothing was worse than the play calls themselves. A perfect example of that would be on the possession when SC got the ball after Cal's post safety series. It was obvious that the USC defense was getting tired and the Trojans needed to control the ball for a while, if no other reason than to give their Defense a short rest. So what did we get to see? SC called two very low percentage plays along with a conservative run. First there was a long sideline pattern to Patrick Turner that has yet to work this season. That was followed by a nice run which left SC in 3rd and about 4. Logic would dictate that the Trojans would call some relatively high percentage play that would likely result in a much needed first down. Instead, SC called a very low percentage sideline long pass to Jarrett and the result was an incompletion and another 3 and out with an ensuing punt. Some might feel that it is nitpicking to mention such a series. I would have to disagree. To my way of thinking, that series, along with a number of illegal procedure calls were indicative of just how out of sync everything on offense really was in the first half. At that time, I simply could not believe that SC would be playing so poorly and the apparent calls could be so weak in such an important, huge game. After all, SC had a chance to become the first team in history to win 5 consecutive Pac-10 Championships and despite all the current hoopla regarding Michigan and Ohio State, the Trojans were also in position to stay in the race for the BCS Championship.
How little faith yours truly had. Yes, I did hope SC would come out slinging the ball in the second half and score some points. I mean SC has scored at least 20 points in every game for longer than anyone else in history. But could I be sure? As it turns out, I should have been. In the second half, SC got a spark from the most unlikely of sources, namely David Buehler. Is there even one single reader who could have guessed that it would be Buehler's 49 yard field goal, yes DAVID BUEHLER's 48 yard field goal,that would have begun the scoring flurry that SC experienced in the second half of the game? For all the criticisms that I had with the play calls in the first half, I have to admit that late in the game, it looked like a very capable guy was calling the plays. Finally SC started to utilize the tight end, the middle of the field and the backs out of the backfield to score some very important points. The fourth and two call that ended up with a touchdown pass to a wide open Steven Smith was simply brilliant and it was executed to perfection. At the risk of irking just about everyone, I will say that Norm Chow could not have set that play up better.
Some folks were very worried about the loss of Emmanuel Moody and the health status of Chauncy Washington. There seemed to be general concern that without that duo, SC's running game would be subpar. Well, I was not one bit concerned, at least not from a personnel standpoint. All year long, I have felt that the CJ Gable is as good as any freshman running back that I have seen all year long and that includes SC's own Moody. Despite his obvious ability, I continually read how next year, Gable will simply have to move to defensive back and this and that. I doubt it folks. When he got the chance to be in the limelight, CJ did not disappoint. This kid is a very special runner and he is plenty fast. He can cut on a dime and he holds on to the ball. His gliding running style honestly reminds me of Marcus Allen as does his deceptive speed. I was also not worried about Chauncey. My reasoning for that is also quite simply stated. If SC needs a power back, they simply need to hand the ball to Allen Bradford. I am positive that just as CJ Gable came through, so will Bradford when he gets the call. As it is, Bradford did a very nice job of blocking on Gable's long run after he caught the ball out of the backfield. USC is simply loaded at tailback and there is yet another guy, Stafon Johnson who is more than capable of delivering when called in to do just that.
After suffering through a rather nonproductive first half, JD Booty picked it up a notch in the second half as did his receivers. Steve Smith ended up with 6 big catches and Dwayne Jarrett caught 5 balls. None of DJ's catches were bigger or more important than his last reception. Booty hit him with a frozen rope and DJ hung on to the ball when he got pummelled by two Cal defensive backs. For all the catches in his career, I don't think any has been more important, or impressive than that particular catch. After looking like he made a half hearted attempt for a ball that ended up being picked in the Oregon State game, to my eye, DJ has gone out of his way to show his toughness. He gets A+ in that respect tonight. He took a number of hits in this game but he never backed down, and he never fumbled the ball. Of course, the Cal fans might feel differently. The Bears had a touchdown called back when Jarrett failed to hold on to one pass over the middle. Replay showed that Dwayne never really had control, but I suppose there are those who would disagree with that assesment. Although Patrick Turner only caught two balls, his last catch was crucial in sustaining a touchdown scoring drive.
Coming into the game, SC knew that punting the ball to Desean Jackson could be a big mistake and it was also vital that USC play lights out on special teams in general. I personally think that SC played lights out in that respect. Greg Woidneck either punted the ball out of bounds or kept it high and near the sidelines, allowing the SC coverage guys to keep DeSean Jackson in check on every single punt. VanBlarcom also did a good job on kickoffs. He kicked several too far to be returned and on those that were returned, the coverage team prevented any long returns. As for the field goals kicked, a team simply can't be better than 3 for 3. As usual, Mario Danelo was money on the short kicks. He was two for two and to my recollection, he has missed only one field goal attempt all season long. Yet it was Buehler's long 49 field goal that was the single biggest surprise, at least to my way of thinking, of the entire game. I was shocked to see him get the call, but up to that point in the game, SC was having trouble putting the ball into the endzone, so Pete decided to give it a try. I don't think I have seen Pete smile and virtually laugh during a game any harder than he did when that field goal was good. When SC tied the game up at 9, I finally started to feel the momentum swing in the Trojan's favor.
As for the defense, what can anyone say? I have to say that in this game, the defense was truly a Triple T; terrific, tough and tenacious. Who would have ever thought that SC could hold this powerful Cal offensive unit to a mere 280 yards and in the process, who would have thought that the defense could also hold Marshaun Lynch to less than 100 yards and hold the self proclaim Reggie Bush wannabe, DeSean Jackson to 2 catches, only one of which was very productive.
At the beginning of the year, Pete proclaimed this to be the fastest defense he has ever had at USC. However, for much of the season, one aspect of the defense or another seemed to be less than awe inspiring. Such was not the case tonight. Although Cal did manage to convert on many third and long conversions, they simply could rarely get the ball into the endzone. SC was tough as nails against the run and their pass defense really tightened up. Kudos to Terrell Thomas. He did some job on the guy from Cal who really likes to talk it up, Mr Jackson. In the end, it was Thomas who got the last laugh. And whatever book it is that Coach Carroll had Lojack read, I have to say it worked wonders. For a guy who was talked about as an All Honors candidate before the season, LoJack and his anticipated sacks were Missing in Action for much of the year. However, last week against the Duck, Lawrence had a coming out party and he really continued his high level of play in this game. He was either causing a fumble, tackling the running back or driving Nate Longshore nuts in general, all night long. Sedric Ellis was also doing his best Mike Patterson's immitation as well. He was a load and a half for much of the game. It seemed like the Cal Oline was having trouble with SC's downlinemen all night long. USC was credited with only one official sack, but my guess is that if anyone asked Nate Longshore, he would tell you all he saw all night long was a mass of large humanity dressed in Cardinal and Gold uniforms that were trying to inflict serious bodily harm. Man on man, this SC defense was tougher than at any time this year, at least to my eye. The guys could not have picked a better time to come on like they did tonight.
I also think that it is necessary to mention the outstanding play of SC's young safeties. Kevin Ellison made one of the best defensive plays of the game when he read a perfect screen pass by Longshore and he singlehandedly stopped Marshaun Lynch in his tracks and Cal was forced to punt the ball. Similarly, Taylor Mays is no longer playing like a freshman. He got yet another pic tonight as SC won the battle of the turnovers and he continued to show just how great he is going to be during his years at USC. If one wants to start a nice argument, one might ask what happens to the competitive safety position next year when both Josh Pinkard and Will Harris return? (I just had to throw that in)
For much of the year, I have read that it was the other guys, and not USC that were making the major half time adjustments. This seemed to be a cause of great concern, especially considering that SC Fans have been accustomed to seeing the Trojans get the best of the half time changes in years gone by. Well, tonight, it was USC, Pete Carroll and his staff that clearly won the battle of strategy, wits and adjustments. The screen passes and draws that were working in the first half were being stopped in the second half. The blitzes were coming in a more ferocious and determined manner than in some recent games. SC was switching off between the 3-4 and 4-3 and throwing in all kinds of packages. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, I think the offense was changed in the second half to better take advantage of what the defense was giving. Rather than wonder why it took so long to utilize the middle of the field, I am simply happy that it was finally done. Just perhaps it was Kiffin who was actually setting up the California defense!
After the loss to Oregon State, there were many who felt that SC could end up losing 3 of the last 4 or maybe worse, heaven forbid. I never really believed that, but worst of all, I really thought that kind of opinion showed very little faith in Pete Carroll and little respect for his intense desire to win and compete. Now we know a few things for sure. SC will be going to the Rose Bowl unless they can make it into the BCS championship game. We also know that this is actually one of Pete's greatest coaching jobs ever at USC. We just have to take a step back and think about what really has transpired. This team lost a ton and a half to the pros and to injuries. The Trojans are playing 15 true freshmen, 15 and they are still winning. The Trojans are also going to end up the season as having played perhaps the nation's toughest schedule. They have just finished the first half of their gruesome final four games. They smashed Oregon and they beat Cal very convincingly. And remember this. Mr Holtz has told us that Notre Dame is the better team and will win the game. Yeah, and if Mr Whiney little Mouse says it, it just has to be true, right?
I know that it is hard for a team to get up week after week, but if any coach in America can get his team to do it, Pete Carroll is that guy. Next week it is the Irish and as Mark May so astutely noted, the grass at the Coliseum won't be 3 feet high. Yes, the Irish can beat SC, but in my opinion, they won't. Anyone want to bet if the subject of last year's lawnmowing disaster will be mentioned? What do you think Mr. Reed?